Has the military lost control?

Gen Hamid Gul with jihadi militants

Despite losing over 3,000 soldiers and 40,000 civilians, there was always some confidence that GHQ had a plan and that, when the final accounting was complete, Pakistan would be stronger and better positioned. Use of jihadi groups as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir may have resulted in some tallies in the liability column, but these would be more than made up for in the final summing of the assets column. Since the past few weeks, however, the wheels seem to have come off and security analysts are quietly pondering the unthinkable: Has the military lost control?

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What exactly does Pakistan want?

Jalaluddin Haqqani

That is the question ricocheting off the walls in offices from DC to Islamabad. It pertains to the barbed issue the infamous Haqqani network. Often described as “the Sopranos of Afghanistan,” the Haqqani network is one of the most powerful actors in the region – a brutal crime family established under the father, Jalaluddin Haqqani in the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Haqqani network is now operationally run by his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who by all accounts is much more an extreme Islamist than his father ever was.

The reason this thorny issue is now front-and-center of US-Pakistan relations is because significant individuals on the American side are now pressing for Pakistan to take action against the Haqqanis. Ranging from Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the top American diplomat in Islamabad, Ambassador Cameron Munter, the US has built up a chorus of voices demanding Pakistan tackle the group responsible for scores of attacks within Pakistan, and increasingly in Afghanistan. The final straw seems to have been the recent attack on the American Embassy in Kabul, in which 5 Afghan policemen and 11 civilians (including 6 children) were killed. The bombing had all the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, and thus began the full-on pressure for Pakistan to finally go after them.

The Zardari administration has responded swiftly and strongly to American accusations the ISI is supporting the Haqqani network. In a brief statement, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said the charges about his intelligence agency’s ties to the Haqqani militant network were baseless and part of a “blame game in public statements.” Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, in the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly, said “Anything which is said about an ally, about a partner publicly to recriminate it, to humiliate it is not acceptable.” Speaking about the sudden rupture in relations, Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani said the United States “cannot live with us and cannot live without us.”

Lost in the middle of the rhetoric is the pause for introspection so badly needed within the halls of power in Pakistan. The US is accusing our ISI of working with the Haqqani network – a group that readily (and proudly!) admits to massacring our citizens and those in our neighboring Afghanistan. We need to ask ourselves a few questions going forward:

1. Is there institutional support for the Haqqani network? Thorough investigations are in order before we issue muscular refutations to the Americans.

2. Why do such depraved groups feel secure in Pakistan? How did our country get to the point where the Haqqani network decided to set up headquarters in the tribal areas of North Waziristan? How did we reach the point where Osama bin Laden settled in Abbottabad? These facts should trouble each Pakistani – we have lost too many of our own to their sick thinking to continue ignoring the fact they live on our soil!

So where do we go from here? US-Pakistan relations are at a critical juncture. The way we handle this going forward may very well set the tone for our partnership with the US for years to come. Our uneasy alliance with the United States can fall neatly into place if we can align our national interests. To do so, we must first acknowledge some bitter truths.

The US is poised to pull out its troops from Afghanistan, and there is no doubt Pakistan will be a key player in the ensuing political development. It is in our best interests to look at the situation from all angles instead of muddling through and pushing back with denial after denial. Only then can we truly realize what Pakistan wants, and what it needs to do.

Cut Off The Hydra’s Head

Jihadi Hydra Monster

Monday morning, militants bombed a school bus in Peshawar – the fifth bombing in a week. Is it only coincidence that we have witnessed attacks increasing in frequency during Muharram? CCPO Fayyaz Laghari has said that as many as 5,700 policemen will be required to secure the mourning processions of Muharram 8, 9 and 10.

Jihadi sympathizers and their useful idiots who peddle conspiracy theories that distract us from our own interests say that al Qaeda does not exist, that it is a figment of the American imagination or possibly a CIA operation. But al Qaeda is real enough to threaten our own military, and they are working hand in hand with TTP and other militant groups here.

According to well informed sources in the Pakistani security establishment, Saif Al Adal, one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, has been dispatched to North Waziristan by bin Laden’s No 2, Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, with the prime objective of boosting al-Qaeda’s military might against the Pakistani security forces in Waziristan and stepping up cross-border ambushes against the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan. Saif was set free by Iran in October 2010 after spending nine years under house arrest, and that too in exchange for the release of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, a senior Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2008. Saif has been dispatched to North Waziristan amidst reports that the Pakistani authorities have already given a commitment to the Obama administration to launch a full-scale military action in the area to uproot the Haqqani militant network led by veteran Afghan leader commander Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Once again it is clear to all who will see it. These attacks have nothing to do with American policy or drone attacks. Rather, it is the strategy of militant groups to divide and conquer. They attack shia processions to create suspicion and resentment, dividing our own citizens against each other. They attack our own troops to weaken our resolve and create distrust and suspicion between our military and the American military with the ultimate goal of undermining the security of our Western border so they can control the tribal areas themselves. Never forget that these jihadis were always against the creation of Pakistan.

The lesson we should be learning is that the hydra-headed monster of lashkars and jihadis is that the deals that some people thought would give us ‘strategic depth’ will actually be our strategic undoing if we don’t cut off the head first.

S Iftikhar Murshed says it perfectly:

It is time for Pakistan to come to terms with the problems that it confronts. The challenges are internal and the foremost among these is the threat to the country’s survival from terrorist violence. Furthermore the state has yet to fully reclaim its writ in the tribal region. This cannot be achieved so long as foreign militants and groups including those from Afghanistan remain in the area.

They should be asked to leave or face military action. It should be made clear to the Afghan groups including the Haqqani network that the road to Kabul is not from the tribal areas of Pakistan but through participating in President Karzai’s reconciliation initiative.

The question is will we act in our own defense before it is too late?